Olympics-IOC presses Athens over 2004 Games venues

Olympic leader Jacques Rogge called on the Greek government on Thursday to start delivering the venues needed for the 2004 Games in Athens.

Rogge, chief inspector of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), made his call after meeting government officials in the Olympic village, one of several projects that have fallen behind schedule.

"The crucial period is now. The next six months will decide the success of the Athens Games," he said. "The government must now deliver the venues it has planned."

But Rogge, a favourite to take over from Juan Antonio Samaranch as IOC president in July, ruled out any idea of the Greek capital losing the Olympics.

"The Games will be held in Athens," he said.

Rogge told ATHOC, the Games organisers, he would stress to Prime Minister Costas Simitis himself the need to speed up work.

Although there was no comment after the Rogge-Simitis meeting, sources said the Olympics inspector had made his point.

"I believe the message was delivered," one official said.

The IOC issued a strict warning to Greece in April to overcome infighting and bureaucratic delays or risk losing the Games.

Simitis took personal charge of the effort, appointing Gianna Angelopoulos, largely credited with winning the bid to host the Games in 1997, to head ATHOC.

Rogge approved the progress made during a visit in November but warned Greece could not afford to relax for a single day. But executive resignations at ATHOC and delays by ministries in key projects have continued to dog the Games.


"We understand the urgency and even ministers understand the urgency but the Greek public sector does not operate at the speed required for such a huge project," a senior ATHOC official told Reuters. "Institutional changes are needed."

A tender for the construction of the Olympic village was launched a day before Rogge's visit but the building of many of the sports venues has been delayed.

"I hope to see the work commence and finish on schedule," Rogge said after meeting deputy Labour Minister Christos Protopapas, whose Labour Housing Organisation is in charge of building the Olympic village.

Greece has about two-thirds of its main venues in place but delays in sports facilities and infrastructure have prompted a row between ATHOC and the government.

A ministerial meeting to examine progress ahead of the IOC visit was reported in the Greek press as a "fencing" match between Simitis and Angelopoulos.

"For the first time, the prime minister and the head of ATHOC performed the Olympic sport of fencing, fighting over the progress of projects ahead of the Rogge visit," the liberal daily Eleftherotypia said.

The latest problems come at a time of increased IOC concerns over Athens Games security. Rogge wanted the issue added to the agenda after a bombing injured a Greek MP last month and subsequent press reports that Greece was lax on fighting terrorism.

The bombing was suspected to be the work of the November 17 urban guerrilla group which has operated with impunity for 25 years, killing 23 Greeks and foreigners.

ATHOC said IOC officials were going over Greek security plans at a special meeting at the Public Order Ministry